Inside the Collection

Chrysanthemums and mums

Chinese papercut Chrysanthemum flower 1930-1940
91/1114, Papercut Chrysanthemum flower, symbolising riches and honour (Fu gui hua), China, 1930-1940. Collection: Powerhouse Museum

Chrysanthemums are often given as mothers day flowers in Australia, as they are in season in May. However they have a longer history, initially cultivated in China as a flowering herb as far back as the 15th century BC.

It is believed that chrysanthemums were brought to Japan in the 8th century and the Emperor adopted the flower as his official seal. There is a “Festival of Happiness” in Japan that celebrates them.
As a symbol of the sun, the Japanese consider the orderly unfolding of the chrysanthemum’s petals to represent perfection, and Confucius once suggested they be used as an object of meditation. It’s said that a single petal of this celebrated flower placed at the bottom of a wine glass will encourage a long and healthy life.

This hard-paste porcelain plate featured below was made in Japan in the late nineteenth century. With restrained design and profuse gilding, the plate is unusual for Japanese wares, suggesting that the piece was made for export to the Europe.

Chrysanthemum flower detail on Japanese plate 1800
2005/201/92 Detail from plate, Arita, Japan, 1800-1870 Collection: Powerhouse Museum

The Hair decoration (kanzashi) featured below is part of a childs Kimono collection from the 1930s. Made of plastic the comb has two prongs with ten plastic bars cascading from a semicircular shape and attached to wire spring, there are two clusters of chrysanthemums (the third cluster of flowers is missing). The flowers are in red, pink, white and yellow with white or red centres.

Chrysanthemum flower Japanese hair decoration 1930
2007/65/10 Hair decoration (kanzashi), childs, , Japan, 1930-1940. Collection Powerhouse Museum

Although grown for thousands of years in Asia, Chrysanthemums were not widely known in the rest of the world until the early nineteenth century, when plants were imported and hybridised in the UK. The flower was brought to Europe in the 17th century. Swedish botanist Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778), named the flower from the Greek word ?????? chrysous, “golden” (the colour of the original flowers), and ??????? -anthemon, meaning flower.

Colours now range from white to pink, purple, yellow, bronze and everything in between. Flowers come in all shapes and sizes.

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